26:26 The Wailing (2016)
– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew
26:26 The Wailing (2016)
– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew
Halloween is rapidly approaching, which means many cinephiles & genre nerds out there are currently planning to cram in as many scary movies as they can over the next month. In that spirit, here’s a horror movie recommendation for every day in October from the Swampflix crew. Each title was positively reviewed on the blog or podcast in the past year and is currently available on a substantial streaming service. Hopefully this helps anyone looking to add some titles to their annual horror binge. Happy hauntings!
Oct 1: Season of the Witch (1973)
“Influenced by second-wave feminism, Romero made a fantastic film about a dissatisfied housewife who dabbles in the occult, and he did it all with a budget of about $100,000 (it was originally $250,000 before his funding dropped). […] The first spell she casts is a love spell that results in her having a tryst with her daughter’s lover. It’s so scandalous! As she dives deeper into the occult, she has progressively intense dreams about someone in a rubber demon mask breaking into her home. The dream later becomes infused with her reality, leading to a shocking act that I won’t spoil in this review.” Currently streaming for free (with a library membership) on Kanopy or free (with ads) on Tubi.
Oct 2: Parents (1989)
“One of those 1980s grotesqueries that takes satirical aim at the Everything Is Dandy manicured surface of 1950s Leave It To Beaver suburbia. Bob Balaban directs the hell out of this pop art horror comedy, landing it somewhere between Blue Velvet & Pee-wee’s Playhouse. It also fits snugly in one of my favorite genres: the R-rated children’s film. A delightful, unsettling novelty.” Currently streaming on Amazon Prime or for free (with ads) on Tubi.
Oct 3: The Stuff (1985)
“I’ve watched the classic trailer for this one so many times on VHS & DVD rentals of other schlock over the years that I felt like I had seen it before, but it was entirely new to me. It’s no Q: The Winged Serpent but there’s still plenty overlap with the Larry Cohen Gimmickry and Michael Moriarty Acting Choices that make Q so delectable. Tons of goopy, cynical fun.” Currently streaming for free (with a library membership) on Hoopla or free (with ads) on Tubi.
Oct 4: Lucky (2021)
“A high-concept home invasion horror about a woman who’s cyclically attacked by the same masked killer night after night after night. This works best as a darkly funny act of audience gaslighting and a surprisingly flexible metaphor about gender politics. Recalls the matter-of-fact absurdism of time-loop thrillers like Timecrimes & Triangle, with a lot of potential to build the same gradual cult following if it finds the right audience.” Currently streaming on Shudder.
Oct 5: Saint Maud (2021)
“Spoke both to my unquenchable thirst for the grotesque as a horror nerd and my unending guilt-horniness-guilt cycle as a lapsed Catholic. I appreciated even more the second time for what it actually is (an intensely weird character study) instead if what I wanted it to be (a menacingly erotic sparring match between Maud and her patient). Currently streaming on Hulu.
Oct 6: The Haunting (1963)
“A masterpiece. Impressively smart, funny, and direct about even its touchiest themes (lesbian desire, generational depression, suicidal ideation) while consistently creepy throughout. It’s also gorgeous! The camera is incredibly active considering it was shot in early Panavision. Loved it far more than expected, considering how often this same material has been adapted.” Currently streaming on Shudder.
Oct 7: Daughters of Darkness (1971)
“Highly stylized Euro sleaze about young newlyweds who are seduced & corrupted by bisexual vampires on their honeymoon. The main villain is named Elizabeth Báthory but she’s played like a breathy, half-asleep Marlene Dietrich, and I love her. The whole thing is just effortlessly sexy and cool all around. Lurid in every sense of the word but somehow still patient & low-key.” Currently streaming for free (with ads) on Tubi.
Oct 8: The Corruption of Chris Miller (1973)
“Some great images & a consistently sleazy vibe wrestling with a super confusing plot that falls apart the second you think about it too long? That’s a giallo.” Currently streaming on Shudder or for free (with ads) on Tubi.
Oct 9: Madhouse (1981)
“Gorgeous, uneven schlock about a woman who’s hunted & tormented by her disfigured twin sister in the week leading up to their birthday. The escaped-mental-patient plot is clearly a riff on the Halloween template, but its style feels much more like an American take on giallo than it does a first-wave slasher. Cheap, delirious mayhem with equally frequent flashes of embarrassing broad comedy & impressive visual craft.” Currently streaming for free (with a library membership) on Kanopy or free (with ads) on Tubi.
Oct 10: StageFright: Aquarius (1987)
“The director of the play-within-the-movie, a possible jab at Argento, is fully invested in his artistic vision … but that vision proves to be completely malleable if it sells a few extra tickets. There’s also a moment in which the director is confronted by the killer wielding a chainsaw and just throws a woman directly into the path of the blades, which, as someone whose knowledge of Argento is … extensive, seems like a pretty good jab at the older filmmaker’s less-than-modern take on gender dynamics.” Currently streaming on Shudder or for free (with ads) on Tubi.
Oct 11: Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971)
“Loving giallo movies means loving digging through piles of the same-old-same-old to find the gems hiding among the tedium. This one is one of the glorious payoffs that makes the hunt worthwhile. It starts with a man awake but paralyzed in a morgue having to piece together how he got there before he’s buried alive. The answers to that mystery are familiar, but told in a sober, coherent way that’s rare in the genre. And it looks characteristically great in its Technicolor indulgences in the moments when it feels like flexing. A highlight of the genre, but one I hadn’t heard of until I saw its disc on sale.” Currently streaming on Shudder.
Oct 12: The Power (2021)
“A British body-possession horror about a religious zealot nurse with a mysterious past and a deeply damaged relationship with sexuality; the stylish debut feature from a young woman filmmaker, clocking in under 90min. And somehow I’m not describing Saint Maud??? This actually might work especially well for people who wish Saint Maud was more of a straightforward horror film. For me, they’re about equally great, but this one’s definitely a lot more immediately satisfying in delivering the genre goods and thematic sense of purpose.” Currently streaming on Shudder.
Oct 13: The Vigil (2021)
“A pretty standard haunted house horror in its broadest terms, but it crams a lot of unexpected details into its Orthodox Judaism context: cult-deprogramming, Evil Internet tech, found footage video cassettes, body horror, demons, etc. Reminded me most of the movies Demon (2015) & The Power (2021), and mostly holds its own among them in its mood & scares.” Currently streaming on Hulu.
Oct 14: The Descent (2005)
“One of those warrior transformation horrors where a traumatized woman emerges from absolute hell stronger, crazed, and doomed. Also super effective as a creature feature creepout but I like that it took its time arriving there, getting you invested in the characters before immersing them in mayhem.” Currently streaming on Amazon Prime or for free (with ads) on Tubi.
Oct 15: The Toll (2021)
“Like a malevolent fae, The Toll Man traps wayward travelers who have the scent of death if they should be unlucky enough to find their way onto his road; someone with suicidal ideation or bound for an accident is then diverted into his realm so that he can extract his toll: death. This has the potential to be more goofy than scary (The Bye Bye Man, anyone?), but in spite of its possible pitfalls, this one manages to work.” Currently streaming for free (with ads) on The Roku Channel.
Oct 16: Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight (2020)
“It’s 10% Phenomena by way of the aesthetic of the European forest and the house in which the mutants are sheltered by their mother, a solid 40% Friday the 13th per its teenage-camping-trip narrative, 20% Scream via the discussion of the “rules” of horror films, 15% C.H.U.D., 8% Housebound, 2% Fargo, and 3% X-Files black goo episode for some reason.” Currently streaming on Netflix.
Oct 17: Pumpkinhead (1988)
“Honestly more of a Great Monster than a Great Movie, but the creature design is so cool and the budget is so bare that it’s easy to forgive a lot of its shortcomings.” Currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Shudder.
Oct 18: Impetigore (2020)
“An Indonesian ghost story about the lingering evils of communal betrayal & inherited wealth (and horrific violence against children in particular, it should be said). This walks a difficult balance of being gradually, severely fucked up without rubbing your face in its Extreme Gore moments. Handsomely staged, efficiently creepy beyond the shock of its imagery, and complicated enough in its mythology that it’s not just a simple morality play.” Currently streaming on Shudder.
Oct 19: In the Earth (2021)
“This is the exact psychedelic folk horror I was expecting it to be, except with an entire slasher about an axe-wielding maniac piled on top just to push it into full-on excess. Impressively strange, upsetting stuff considering its limited scope & budget.” Currently streaming on Hulu or for free (with a library membership) on Kanopy.
Oct 20: The Empty Man (2020)
“A dispatch from an alternate dimension where The Bye Bye Man was somehow an impressively ambitious work of art. Considering its 2018 setting and its blatant riffing on Slender Man lore, it was likely even intended to be a contemporary of that mainstream-horror embarrassment, despite it being quietly dumped into pandemic-era theaters years later. Feels refreshing to see a robustly budgeted studio horror take wild creative stabs instead of settling for routine PG-13 tedium, like trying to recapture the 1970s in the late 2010s.” Currently streaming on HBO Max.
Oct 21: Possessor (2020)
“Apparently Brandon Cronenberg took note of the often-repeated observation that Andrea Riseborough loses herself in roles to the point of being unrecognizable, and built an entire fucked up sci-fi horror about the loss of Identity around it. A damn good one too.” Currently streaming on Hulu.
Oct 22: His House (2020)
“This bold debut feature from screenwriter and director Remi Weekes tackles topics of grief, disenfranchisement, loss, immigration, disconnection, and the things we keep while other things are left behind. There’s so much unspoken but powerfully present in the interactions between Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku as, respectively, Bol and Rial Majur. There’s something so palpable in Bol’s desire to disappear into this new community, joining in with the old men singing songs to their futbol heroes and blending in by purchasing an exact duplicate of the outfit on in-store advertising. By the time he’s literally trying to burn everything that ties himself and his wife to their past, it’s impossible to predict where the film will go next. Even the most artistic horror film rarely transcends into something truly beautiful, but His House does all of this and more.” Currently streaming on Netflix.
Oct 23: The Wolf House (2020)
“A nightmare experiment in stop-motion animation that filters atrocities committed by exiled-Nazi communes in Chile through a loose, haunting fairy tale narrative. It’s completely fucked, difficult to fully comprehend, and I think I loved it.” Currently streaming on Shudder, The Criterion Channel, for free (with a library membership) on Kanopy, or for free (with ads) on Tubi.
Oct 24: Cube (1997)
“A high-concept Canuxploitation cheapie with such a clear central gimmick that I’ve been comparing other movies to it for years (Circle, Escape Room, The Platform, etc) without ever actually watching it until now.” Currently streaming for free (with a library membership) on Kanopy & Hoopla or for free (with ads) on Tubi.
Oct 25: Castle Freak (1995)
“For most audiences this would be an inessential novelty, but I’m honestly super embarrassed I’ve never seen this Full Moon-produced Stuart Gordon flick before, especially since Dolls is my personal favorite Gordon (by which I mean I’m more of a Charles Band fan, have pity on me). Outside its creature scenes the movie is only a C-, but the actual castle freak is an easy A+, and since I watched it after midnight I have no patience to do the math on that grading based on its castle-freak-to-no-castle-freak screentime ratio.” Currently streaming on Shudder or for free (with ads) on Tubi.
Oct 26: Dark Angel: The Ascent (1994)
“A cute e-girl demon runs away from home (Hell) to torment sinners on Earth as a vigilante superhero, and accidentally falls in love along the way. Sleazy yet goofily childish in a way only Charles Band/Full Moon productions can be.” Currently streaming for free (with ads) on Tubi.
Oct 27: Shadow in the Cloud (2021)
“A total blast. 80 minutes of delicious, delirious pulp, settling halfway between a creature feature and a radio play. Not for nothing, it’s also the first time I’ve ever been enthusiastically positive on a Chloë Grace Moretz performance.” Currently streaming on Hulu or for free (with ads) on Kanopy & Hoopla.
Oct 28: Godzilla vs Hedorah (1973)
“Remains my favorite Godzilla film (at least among the relatively small percentage I’ve seen) and generally one of my all-time favs regardless of genre. Proto-Hausu psychedelia emerging from a fiercely anti-pollution creature feature. Perfection.” Currently streaming on HBO Max and The Criterion Channel.
Oct 29: Monster Brawl (2011)
“This might be the absolute worst movie that I wholeheartedly love. That’s because it mimics the structure & rhythms of a wrestling Pay-Per-View instead of a traditional Movie, which requires the audience to adjust their expectations to the payoffs of that format. Everything I love & loathe about pro wrestling is present here: the over-the-top characters, the exaggerated cartoon violence, the infuriating marginalization of women outside the ring to Bikini Babe status, all of it. It’s a pure joy to see (generic versions of) the famous monsters that I also love plugged into that template, especially when the announcers underline the absurdity of the scenario with inane statements like “For the first time in professional sports, folks, we’re witnessing the dead rising from their graves to attack Frankenstein.” Currently streaming for free (with a library membership) or free (with ads) on Hoopla.
Oct 30: Psycho Goreman (2021)
“The movie I desperately wanted to see made when I was ten years old, by which I mean it’s R-rated Power Rangers. Can’t say that novelty lands as sweetly in my thirties, especially since the Random! humor is so corny & poisonously self-aware. All of the practical gore is aces, though, and I really hope kids who are technically too young to watch it sneak it past their parents. Tested my patience for cutesy irony, but could birth a lot of lifelong horror nerds so overall a net good.” Currently streaming on Shudder or for free (with a library membership) on Hoopla.
Oct 31: Hack-o-Lantern (1988)
“Bargain bin 80s trash that’s half slasher/half variety show: featuring strip teases, belly dances, hair metal music videos, curbside stand-up routines, and amateur Satanic rituals to help pad out the runtime between its kill-by-numbers plotting. Wonderful programming if you’re looking for something vapid that’s set on Halloween night.” Currently streaming on Shudder or for free (with ads) on Tubi.
-The Swampflix Crew
Our current Movie of the Month, 1987’s Hello Again, is a fluffy romantic comedy about an undead but unflappable Shelley Long, one that sidesteps all of the possible morbidity of its zom-com premise in favor of A Modern Woman Making Her Own Way feel-goodery. Even after she’s resurrected from the dead, Long’s status as a medical phenomenon has less impact on the film’s tone & plot than her nature as a hopeless klutz among big-city sophisticates does. It’s a dynamic that allows her to go absurdly broad in fits of Mr. Bean-style physical comedy, often to the point where you forget there’s any supernatural shenanigans afoot in the first place. The film is less about her being undead than it is about her being adorably ungraceful.
What most surprised me about this fairly anonymous studio comedy is that there’s some shockingly substantial talent behind the camera. Director Frank Perry began his career as a New Hollywood troublemaker, filming excruciatingly dark, uncomfortable comedies about The Human Condition. Whereas Hello Again actively avoids the inherent darkness of its subject, earlier Perry films seemed to revel in the discomfort of their premises. So, I used this month’s Movie of the Month selection as an excuse to dig a little further into Perry’s back catalog to see just how dark those earlier films could get and if they had tangible connection to the mainstream studio comedies he was cranking out by the 1980s. Here are a few recommended titles if you enjoyed our Movie of the Month but want to see the darker side of its director.
The Swimmer (1968)
The most bizarre aspect of Hello Again is how matter-of-fact it plays the absurdity of Shelley Long’s return from the grave. She’s not a decaying corpse; she doesn’t have magical powers; she’s just there. That underplayed absurdism is something Perry had done before to much more sinister effect when he was still a New Hollywood buttonpusher (along with his then-wife Eleanor Perry, who wrote the majority of his early screenplays). In The Swimmer, Perry cast Burt Lancaster as an aging suburban playboy who, on a whim, decides to “swim home” by visiting a string of friends’ backyard pools across his wealthy neighborhood. It’s a boldly vapid premise that’s somehow molded into a low-key mindmelter of 1960s moral rot through an eerie, matter-of-fact sense of surrealism.
Like Hello Again, The Swimmer is more of a quirky character piece than it is concerned with the internal logic of its supernatural plot. Instead of only traveling by the “continuous” “river” of swimming pools he initially envisions over his morning cocktail, Lancaster spends a lot of runtime galloping alongside horses, leisurely walking through forests, and crossing highway traffic barefoot. He does often emerge from one borrowed swimming pool to the next, though, and along the way we dig deeper into the ugliness of his himbo playboy lifestyle. He starts the film as a masterful charmer, seducing the world (or at least the world’s wives and mistresses) with an infectious swinging-60s bravado. By the time he swims his last pool, we recognize him as a miserable piece of shit who doesn’t deserve to kiss the feet of the infinite wonderful women of his past who we meet along the way. The overall result is sinisterly ludicrous beefcake melodrama, presented in lurid Technicolor. Sirk could never, but Perry did.
Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970)
Although it’s ostensibly a back-from-the-dead zom-com, the dramatic core of Hello Again is much less about the supernatural circumstances of Shelley Long’s second chance at life than it is about her transformation from a dowdy housewife to a fully realized, fully satisfied person. And it turns out one of Frank Perry’s earliest professional triumphs is a much darker prototype of that same basic story. Diary of a Mad Housewife is a woman-on-the-verge black comedy about an absurdly horrid marriage that drives a put-upon housewife to a steamy, but equally toxic affair. Her husband constantly negs her in an abusive way; her side-piece boyfriend also negs her, but in a kinky way. She emerges from the other end completely miserable, but at least finally having done something for herself.
Most of the humor in Diary of a Mad Housewife is wrung from just how obnoxiously awful the husband character is to his “beloved.” From the second she wakes up, he floods her with a constant stream of complaints about her body, her clothes, her hair, and her behavior. It’s basically an early draft of Mink Stole’s ranting complaints at the start of Desperate Living – hilariously unpleasant & cruel in its never-ending barrage. Like in Hello Again, the titular mad housewife (Carrie Snodgress) struggles to rub elbows with elite sophisticates at the stuffy society parties her husband wants to attend (not to mention the housekeeping struggle of throwing those large-scale parties to being with). This earlier draft of that tension is just much darker than anything Hello Again offers, including a stubborn refusal to offer its put-upon protagonist a happy ending. Other highlights include a hunky-hipster Frank Langella, the world’s most rotten children, and a chaotic pre-fame cameo from “The Alice Cooper Band”.
Mommie Dearest (1981)
Maybe Diary of a Mad Housewife‘s proto-Desperate Living opening was not happenstance at all. The film very well may have been a direct influence on John Waters’s filmmaking style, as evidenced by Waters’s fawning commentary track on Perry’s most iconic film: the Joan Crawford biopic Mommie Dearest. I’ve owned my Mommie Dearest DVD for at least a decade, have watched it lots, and somehow didn’t notice until this month that it includes a full commentary track from Waters. He does a great job of quipping throughout it MST3k style while also genuinely attempting to revamp its reputation as a “so good it’s great” melodrama. More to the point, he recalls early in the runtime that a critic once attempted to insult him by saying he’s not “the underground Russ Meyer,” he’s “the underground Frank Perry.” Of course, Waters took that insult as a compliment, as well he should have. Frank Perry’s great.
I highly recommend watching Mommie Dearest with the commentary track flipped on, especially if you’re already seen it and want to spend some quality time with one of history’s greatest talkers. Waters has some great quips about how Perry frames Crawford as “a female female-impersonator role” & a Strait-Jacket style horror villain, but I mostly just appreciated the way he tries to reclaim the film as a genuine crowd-pleaser. Waters absolutely nails it when he explains, “There’s no better kind of movie than this kind of movie if you’re home on a Saturday afternoon with a slight hangover.” I’d also put Hello Again in that exact same category, even if its own campy humor is much more measured & straightforward.
Britnee: There are many comedies that play around with the morbid humor of characters coming back from the dead. We actually did an episode of The Swampflix Podcast a few months ago where we talked about My Boyfriend’s Back (1993), a great example of a film that makes that gruesome subject light and funny. While they can be hilarious, what My Boyfriend’s Back and similar films do that I’m not a huge fan of is attach their undead humor to traditional zombie lore (bodies starting to rot, hunger for human flesh, etc.). Thankfully, there is a funny movie about someone returning from the dead who is in great health and looks fabulous from start to end: Hello Again (1987). It also happens to be my second Movie of the Month selection that stars Shelley Long, the ultimate 80s funny lady.
Lucy (Shelley Long) is a clumsy housewife who’s married to her college sweetheart, Jason (Corbin Bernsen), a plastic surgeon rising through the ranks of high society in NYC. Lucy is constantly tripping over her own feet, spilling food on her light-colored clothing, and in one of the most memorable scenes, ripping her dress in two by stepping on the hem. She most certainly does not fit in with the snobby groups her husband rubs shoulders with. While visiting her occultist sister Zelda (Judith Ivey), Lucy chokes on a piece of a South Korean chicken ball and dies. Thankfully, Zelda comes across an ancient book in her shop in which she finds a spell that could bring Lucy back from the dead. In order for the spell to work, there are three things that need to happen approximately one year after death: (1) the deceased must have died before their time; (2) the person performing the spell has to have pure love for the deceased; (3) the Earth, the moon, and the dog star must be aligned in a perfect isosceles triangle. Zelda makes it happen, and Lucy returns from the grave. She then tries her best to navigate through life (again) while developing a romantic relationship with the ER doctor who witnessed her death (Gabriel Byrne).
There’s not much explanation of how the magic works post-resurrection, except that Lucy needs to find true love before the next full moon. Nothing is mentioned on how long her new life will last, if she will continue to age, etc. I love that the film doesn’t spend a ton of time getting lost in some bizarre, made up lore. Instead, we get to watch Lucy be an undead klutz with the most incredible fashion sense, and it’s wonderful.
Brandon, what are your thoughts on how Hello Again handles the subject of coming back from the dead? Was it boring or creative?
Brandon: I didn’t find the way it handles Lucy’s resurrection boring or creative, really. That’s because I’m not sure the film handles that subject at all. Lucy could’ve just as easily been deep-frozen, or lost in the woods, or simply comatose for a year and it wouldn’t have had that much effect on the film’s tone or plot. Hello Again is less about her being undead than it is about her being unflappable, sidestepping all of the possible morbidity of its zom-com premise in favor of A Modern Woman Making Her Own Way feel-goodery. And it’s cute as heck. We already have plenty gory screwball comedies about the decaying bodies of the living dead — from Death Becomes Her to Dead Man on Campus to Idle Hands to the aforementioned My Boyfriend’s Back. This particular zom-com feels way more fixated on how much your life & social standing would change if you unexpectedly disappeared for a year than it does on the practical, grisly details of its supernatural conflict, and that’s fine. If anything, the last 18 months of global social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic has only made that thought experiment more relevant and relatable. Watching Lucy emerge from the grave to feel out her place in a world that has moved on without her is eerily reminiscent of what it currently feels like to leave my house to see friends & family for the first time since the pandemic started. It’s a little awkward, a little absurd, surprisingly sad, but ultimately good for our souls.
If there’s anything I wished Hello Again would’ve pushed a little harder, it wouldn’t be the flesh-decaying zombie angle, but rather the Mr. Bean style physical humor Shelley Long gets to indulge in as a hopeless klutz. She’s incredibly loveable (and funny!) as a clumsy goofball who can barely keep herself together among the big-city sophisticates she refers to as “jazzy people.” I guess my ideal version of the film would be a Mr. Bean-meets-Groundhog Day premise where Lucy repeatedly dies in pathetically silly ways (steps on a rake, drowns in a birdbath, gets crushed by a falling piano, etc) only to get resurrected for yet another chance at self-actualization/true love until she gets it right. Instead, the movie brushes both its supernatural & slapstick shenanigans aside for some heartfelt melodrama about Lucy re-establishing her place in the world (with a brief flirtation with tabloid fame along the way). It’s cute, but not nearly as funny as watching her split her dress open at a fancy party to expose her underwear to all the major financial donors at her husband’s hospital so they can drop their monocles and exclaim “Well, I never!” The only other major Shelley Long star vehicle I can recall seeing is Troop Beverly Hills, and it’s only Lucy’s unfashionable clumsiness that really distinguishes those two performances for me (as adorable as they both are), so I would’ve loved to see it exaggerated to greater effect.
Hanna, what do you think Shelley Long brings to the table as the central performer here? Hello Again asks a lot of her as its star. She has to convey sincere romance with a dead-serious Gabriel Byrne as a rival doctor at her husband’s hospital; she has to comically outshine a wide range of the exact quirky side-character archetypes that she usually plays herself (especially Judith Ivey as her sister Zelda); she has to pose both as a dowdy housewife and a burgeoning fashionista. Does she somehow pull it all off?
Hanna: I’m not super familiar with Shelley Long (apart from her role in The Money Pit, which I love), but I was super impressed by her tireless commitment to the various zany demands of Hello Again. Her adaptability in whatever situation she’s thrown into is key to her character and the success of this movie; it seems obvious that one of Long’s strengths as a performer in general is being totally game for anything (including making a fool of herself), and that quality carries over to Lucy’s indomitable spirit in the face of heartbreak, fame, and the occult nonsense that brought her back to life. It helps that Long is eminently likeable! She’s especially charming when she’s living my nightmare of exposing her big white panties to a slew of hot-shot doctors at a dinner party, but I was just as happy to see her strut around her sister’s bookstore in an absurdly fabulous dress after her Big Makeover.
Even though Long obviously did a great job, I’m not sure if all of the threads of Hello Again came together in a satisfying way. Like Brandon said, there’s a lot going on: Lucy’s story is picked up by the global news and becomes a viral celebrity, forcing her to dodge paparazzi at the hospital; Jason (Corbin Bernsen) shacked up with Lucy’s opportunistic best friend, Kim (Sela Ward) in Lucy’s absence, then tries to win Lucy back once she becomes famous; and of course there’s the love subplot with the dreamy ER doctor Gabriel Byrne, which includes a Beauty and the Beast-ish threat of Lucy being sent back to the grave if she fails to find true love before the next full moon. There are a few more tiny subplots, but for the most part they were a little underdeveloped, and sometimes forgotten. This is especially true of Lucy’s love curse, which is briefly mentioned to add some stakes to her living situation but largely goes unaddressed without consequence. I really loved the characters in Hello Again and I was entertained by each scene individually, but I never felt like I had a firm grasp on the overall direction of the story. But! That’s okay – it was an absolute delight anyway.
Boomer, do you think Hello Again could have used a little more development, or was it perfect as an erratic late-80s comedy? Is there an element of Lucy’s life after death that you wish had been explored further?
Boomer: There’s a lot of fun to be had here, and one of the topics of discussion that we have danced around is Long’s big performance near the end in which she is supposedly possessed by the spirit of Kim’s latest (dead) husband. It’s a true delight in which she shows off her talent for funny voices and physical comedy that’s very large but refrains from going too broad. In a movie that is, in many ways, largely unfocused, it serves as a capstone on the various small bits of physical comedy scattered throughout. That’s kind of the film’s bread-and-butter, though, as it moves from a small, heartfelt reunion, to scenes of Lucy speaking with her former boss about how, despite being irreplaceable, she was replaced within two weeks of her death, to her realization that her understated suburban housewife style has become all the rage in Los Angeles, for dubiously believable pop psychology reasons. It’s fair to say that by the time they’re having a full-on Oh God! style press conference, things have gotten pretty muddled.
I did think that the brevity of the time between Lucy’s death and resurrection was a bit of a misstep. This is a bit of a strange reference point for a film in this genre, but I kept thinking about Flight of the Navigator, and how that film’s eight year jump forward allowed for the passage of enough time for significant changes to occur and thus return that film’s protagonist to a world that was sufficiently different and alienating. It might have been weird, narratively, for Zelda to still be clinging to the idea of bringing back her sister after so long a period of time, but while it’s not inconceivable that a year might be enough time for, say, a playground to be converted into a fairly-far-along construction site, it does seem like far too little time for various other events to have occurred. The one that seemed the most unbelievable to me was that her son, who was presumably 17 or 18 at the beginning of the film given that he was still deciding whether or not to go to college, had compressed what, in the real world, would be at least six years of professional development into a mere twelve months. A longer time before resurrection would also go some distance toward making Kim and Jason a little more well-rounded and multi-dimensional, as opposed to their largely static roles in the film as it exists now. In the film, the Jason moves on so quickly that it would probably raise a few eyebrows, and instead of having Kim simply hop into bed (and matrimony) with Jason, she could have had a scene with Lucy in which she talked about having a hard time finding her footing and eventually falling for Jason because the two spent so much time together after Lucy’s passing. I could definitely see both her and Jason played more sympathetically, with both of them as flawed individuals who brought out the worst in each other as her lust for wealth cross-pollinated with Jason’s ambitions to create an LA power, and powerfully misguided, couple.
Brandon: Even if it can be narratively frustrating, there is something charming about how disinterested Hello Again is in its own plot vs. how in love it is with its collection of quirky characters. One of the funniest line deliveries in the entire film is when Zelda crashes a stuffy society party and introduces herself to the shocked sophisticates, “My name’s Zelda! I have a story for you. Hey, don’t worry. I’m just Lucy’s eccentric sister.” I love how blatant the film’s priorities are in that exchange.
Boomer: I literally said “Oh my god, Sela, you look amazing” the moment she appeared on screen. I also love Judith Ivey. If you’re able to track it down, I’d recommend giving her audiobook version of the Stephen King short story “Luckey Quarter” (sic) a try; it’s very charming.
Upcoming Movies of the Month
October: Hanna presents Lisa and the Devil (1973)
November: Brandon presents Planet of the Vampires (1965)
-The Swampflix Crew
Welcome to Episode #142 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Brandon is joined by temporary shelter-mate Sabre to stave off the boredom of Hurricane Ida power outages with our very first solar-powered podcast — discussing the movies they’ve been watching while waiting for the post-storm world to return to normalcy.
02:50 Heathers vs. Mean Girls
05:35 Death Becomes Her
08:15 Jellyfish Eyes
– The Podcast Crew
For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer, Brandon, and Alli discuss Lauren Greenfield’s 2012 documentary The Queen of Versailles, a darkly funny portrait of a dysfunctional family’s attempt to construct the most extravagant single-family home in the United States.
01:50 Things Heard and Seen (2021)
09:00 Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop (2021)
13:13 The Wailing (2016)
14:14 It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012)
16:20 Annette (2021)
21:19 The Astrologer (1976)
26:00 The Queen of Versailles (2012)
– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew
I recently had the pleasure of taking off an entire week from work to do Nothing – casually filling my time with movies, meals, and household chores instead of cramming those activities into the tight crevices between pushing papers & sleep. It was a necessary, restorative break from my usual routine, one I’ve been reluctant to indulge in since the pandemic-era version of a “vacation” really just means extended time alone on my couch. I managed to watch 18 feature films over that 10-day stretch, sometimes cramming in four a day and sometimes watching none at all to make room for “social” activities like podcasting and watching pro wrestling with friends. As a result, most of the films didn’t have much space to stand out as anything distinctly noteworthy (with the major exceptions of Hackers and Pig), but I did notice some striking similarities shared between a few of the pairings. Without a doubt, the most highly specific, niche double feature in that week-long binge was Shiva Baby & The Vigil: two incredibly tense new releases set at Jewish funeral rituals. Neither stood out to me as personal best-of-the-year material the way I hoped. Still, they were both impressively energetic, nerve-racking debuts from first-time filmmakers, and their shared Jewish funeral rites context only underlined their strengths as a pair.
I’d feel much worse about lumping these two unique, otherwise unrelated films together purely for their shared religious context if that overlap hadn’t already been covered by other blogs (most notably the Jewish outlet Alma‘s post “A New Kind of Jewish Horror Film Has Arrived“). Shiva Baby in particular suffers the most in that pairing, since the film is already fighting off frequent comparisons as the Jewish, bisexual version of Krisha. To be fair, Shiva Baby is a lot more similar to Krisha than it is to The Vigil, at least in terms of its tone & genre. Set at a shiva ceremony following a distant relative’s passing, a college student & sex worker finds herself trapped at a nightmarishly awkward “party” with her parents, her ex-girlfriend, her Sugar Daddy, his wife, and their baby – struggling to keep them all apart so they don’t accidentally tattle on her triple-life. A low-budget, 77min immersion in the sweaty panic of that disastrous wake, there’s a lot going on in Shiva Baby that directly recalls the familial tensions of the Thanksgiving-from-Hell setting of Krisha, right down to the winding tension of their plucked-strings scores. I just don’t remember Trey Edwards Shults’s film being so Funny. Writer-director Emma Seligman makes Shiva Baby so painfully, overwhelmingly awkward that it transforms into a kind of black comedy. At the very least, she wouldn’t have cast Fred Melamed & Jackie Hoffman in bit parts unless she was aiming to wring out some laughs, no matter how dark. The film even ends with all the main players converging into one cramped, chaotic space like a true farce, capturing the feeling of when your life is going so catastrophically bad that all you can do is laugh to release the tension.
The Vigil is much shorter on laughs. It relieves its own dramatic tension in a much more traditional, straightforward way – aiming for classic haunted house scares that just happened to be staged in a highly specific cultural context. Whereas the shiva ceremony of Seligman’s film is a post-funeral celebration & communal mourning, Keith Thomas’s haunted house horror covers the time before a funeral, when an assigned “shomer” sits vigil with the deceased so their body is never left alone. In this case, a recent defector from an extremist form of Orthodox Judaism is reluctantly roped back into his old community as a one-night shomer for a total stranger, because he desperately needs a paycheck. The premise is perfect for a horror film, locking a freaked-out shomer alone in a spooky house with a dead body while supernatural happenings creep in from the darkness. The Vigil manages to cram a lot of unexpected details into that straight-forward set-up too: cult-deprogramming, Evil Internet tech, found footage video cassettes, body horror, demons, etc. It reminded me most of the recent movies Demon (2016) & The Power (2021), but it does a great job in setting itself apart from them in its mood & scares, even beyond the specificity of its cultural context. It would especially make for great Halloween Season programming, breaking up the usual cultural settings of by-the-books haunted house movies while still delivering the expected beats & scares of its genre (as indicated by its distribution under the Blumhouse brand).
If you’re looking for a film that’s invested in the specifics of traditional Jewish funeral rites, The Vigil is probably the more rewarding programming choice of this pair. I personally found Shiva Baby to be the more promising debut, but its context as A Jewish Film was more generalized & cultural than The Vigil‘s. If nothing else, it plays with the same buttoned-up comedic tension of non-Jewish films like Death at a Funeral, just with a younger, harsher edge. It’s incredibly cool that both films were able to find proper funding & distribution around the same time to reach audiences outside the festival circuit, which is typically where culturally-specific films like this premiere and then immediately disappear. I look forward to a time when there are enough films set in these types of niche cultural environments that they’re no longer a novelty as pairings. For now, the significance of their cultural overlap helped them stand out among all the other, more familiar movie premises I drifted through during my on-the-couch vacation – even more so than their shared penchant for chokehold dramatic tension.
Welcome to Episode #141 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Britnee, James, Brandon, and Hanna discuss four one-long-conversation dramas, starting with My Dinner with Andre (1981).
01:35 Free Guy (2021)
06:18 A Quiet Place Part II (2021)
09:00 Queen Bees (2021)
11:11 Hello Again (1987)
12:12 Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970)
13:30 Mommie Dearest (1981)
15:35 The Swimmer (1968)
18:44 Nine Days (2021)
24:14 The Green Knight (2021)
28:40 My Dinner with Andre (1981)
51:11 Before Sunrise (1995)
1:09:50 What Happened Was . . . (1994)
1:27:54 Interview (2007)
– The Podcast Crew
02:30 Possessor (2021)
03:30 Millennium Actress (2001)
05:45 The Green Knight (2021)
11:22 Greener Grass (2019)
14:40 A Classic Horror Story (2021)
18:20 The Suicide Squad (2021)
28:08 Sound of Violence (2021)
31:10 In the Earth (2021)
34:30 Loves of a Blonde (1965)
– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew
Boomer: I love the movie Sneakers. This movie has everything: government conspiracies, a villain with a praiseworthy goal, hacking, phreaking, a blind man driving a van, the creation of a voiceprint password by cobbling together pieces of recordings, two scenes with River Phoenix in a scrub top, significant anagrams, post-Cold War espionage, ancient car phones, crawlspaces, codenames, rooftop confrontations, extremely futuristic but uncomfortable looking furniture made out of wire mesh, call tracing, electronic toy dogs, complex mathematics, briefcases full of cash, intrigue, prestidigitation, and two-time Emmy, Golden Globe, and Oscar nominee Mary McDonnell. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times and I never, ever get tired of it.
Martin Bishop (Robert Redford), some twenty years after his friend and fellow idealist Cosmo was arrested while Martin was out getting pizza to celebrate some illegal but morally admirable money transfers, now works with a tiger team of “sneakers.” There’s Crease (Sidney Poitier), ex-C.I.A. and the group’s watchtower man; conspiracy theorist and electronics whiz “Mother” (real-life conspiracy theorist Dan Aykroyd); Irwin “Whistler” Emery (David Strathairn), a blind man whose hearing is so precise that it allows him to participate in the now largely defunct form of hacking known as phreaking; and young, pretty Carl Arbogast (River Phoenix), a hacking prodigy. Only two people know that Martin is actually the still-wanted fugitive once known as Martin Brice: Cosmo, who died in prison, and his ex-girlfriend, Liz (Mary McDonnell), with whom he is still relatively friendly. His secret, and his freedom, are threatened one day when Martin is approached by two men from the NSA (Timothy Busfield and Eddie Jones) who task him with stealing a “black box” piece of decryption hardware from a mathematician named Janek (Donal Logue, in his first film role). Although they succeed in obtaining the device, their payday is complicated by the revelation that they’ve actually been duped by former NSA operatives, now working for a person or persons unknown. Now, the team, including Liz, will have to use all of their wits to avoid not just jail time, but death.
Sneakers was a box office success. This is owed in no small part, I’m sure, to its all-star cast, which also includes James Earl Jones and Ben Kingsley in roles that are too spoilery to note in a synopsis. It’s got a great soundtrack from the late James Horner, who perfectly balances the film’s intermittent intrigue and danger with its larger comedic tone, creating something that is at turns triumphant, cautious, and playful. Director Phil Alden Robinson, who also wrote the screenplay alongside Walter F. Parkes and Lawrence Lasker (the duo who previously penned the somewhat thematically similar WarGames), seems to be seeking to correct the mistakes of 1985’s Fletch. The earlier film, on which Robinson was an uncredited screenwriter, is also one of intrigue with touches of comedy, but despite Fletch‘s modicum of success at both the box office and with audiences, I agree with Roger Ebert’s contemporary assessment of the movie’s star: “[Chevy] Chase’s performance tends to reduce all the scenes to the same level. […] Fletch needed an actor more interested in playing the character than in playing himself.” Here, Robinson banks on Robert Redford’s longtime association with the conspiracy genre (Three Days of the Condor, All The President’s Men) as well as his natural charisma as an actor to do some of the shorthand of making Sneakers work without having to do too much legwork itself. Of course, every actor is great here; Poitier could have been used more, but he’s the absolute center of every scene that he’s in, and my love of Mary McDonnell is long documented so I won’t repeat myself here. Aykroyd, bless him, makes a meal out of his proto-Mulder role as he effortlessly tosses off lines about increases in cattle mutilations and ties the (unsuccessful, he claims) assassination of JFK to the men behind the Pete Rose scandal.
Since I’ve mentioned Ebert, however, it bears noting that he was lukewarm on the film, calling it “sometimes entertaining […] but thin” and claims that it “recycles” older film cliches: “Redford’s team […] is yet another version of the World War II platoon that always had one of everything. […] the black guy, the fat guy, the blind guy, the woman[,] and the Kid.” Although he found parts of Sneakers cliche at points, he also praised Robinson for directing “with skill and imagination.” Brandon, I know that I’ve forced you to watch quite a few conspiracy films over the years; you were moderately positive in our discussion of Winter Soldier but struggled to find something nice to say about Undiscovered Country. Given that Sneakers is at its core a cyberpunk story like previous Movie of the Month Strange Days, albeit one with a cassette futurism aesthetic, and that I know how much you love The Net, I’m hoping you enjoyed this one. Did it work for you? If so (or if not), why (or what would you have preferred)?
Brandon: Like the last Mary McDonnell film we discussed as a Movie of the Month selection, Passion Fish, Sneakers mostly landed with me as an Afternoon Movie: low-key mainstream filmmaking best enjoyed while the sun is still out on a profoundly lazy day. It’s the kind of movie I used to catch on broadcast television as a kid, when commercial breaks would stretch the runtime out to actually take up an entire afternoon, pleasantly so. At the risk of participating in gender binary rhetoric, I’d say the main difference is that Passion Fish is a Mom Movie, while Sneakers is solidly a Dad Movie — the perfect basic cable background fodder to passively enjoy while your grandpa snores over the soundtrack. As a “cyberpunk” thriller about elite early-internet hackers, it is absurdly un-hip; it’s all cyber and no punk. I’ve come to expect my movie hackers to be young, androgynous perverts dressed in glossy patent leather, not middle-aged movie stars who tuck in their shirt-tails. However, as a big-budget Dad Movie that plays with the same 1990s cyberterror anxieties exploited in the much goofier The Net, I found it highly entertaining. It feels like a dispatch from a bygone studio filmmaking era when movie stars actually drove ticket sales, so that their importance on the screen is stressed way more than directorial style or production design — which are slick enough here but deliberately avoid calling attention to themselves.
As a result, I was more invested in the charm of the casting and the performances than I was in the actual espionage plot, which boils down to a global-scale hacking MacGuffin that has since become standard to most modern blockbusters in the MCU and Fast & Furious vein. We’re introduced to Redford’s motley crew of square-looking cybercriminals in two separate rollcalls: one in which NSA agents read out their respective arrest records to quickly sketch out their past, and one in which they individually dance to Motown records with Mary McDonnell to show off their personal quirks. I found the movie to be most vibrantly alive in those two scenes because of its general commitment to highlighting the eccentricities of its cast. Redford & Poitier squeeze in an obligatory “We’re getting too old for this shit” quip in the first ten minutes of the film, but outside of those two rollcalls it’s rare for the movie to acknowledge just how out-of-place and Ordinary its elite hackers look (at least when compared to other 90s gems like Hackers and The Matrix), when that’s the only thing I really wanted to dwell on. I could’ve watched an entire movie about Dan Akroyd’s awkwardly past-his-prime Mall Goth conspiracy theorist, for instance, since that role could’ve been much more comfortably filled by a Janeane Garofalo or a Fairuza Balk type without any change in demeanor or costuming. What is Mother’s deal? I’d love to know.
Britnee, were you similarly distracted by the movie’s casting & costuming of its “cyberpunk” hackers? Who were the highlights (or lowlights) of the film’s cast of characters for you?
Britnee: I have to admit that Sneakers took me by surprise when I realized it was a hacker movie. I’ve known about its existence for years. It was always hanging out in my local library’s VHS collection. Its cover is a sneaky look at Robert Redford with a group of middle aged pals, so I just always assumed it was about him owning a shoe store in New England or something along those lines. It turns out that I was way off.
Like Brandon, I always expect hacker films to have a cast of sexy 90s cyperpunks. Leather pants, spiky hair, and those tiny cyber sunglasses that make no sense but all the sense at the same time. The only other way I’ve seen a hacker represented in a movie is a gamer guy with a messy t-shirt or a girl with a tight black tank top and cargo pants. The group in Sneakers is far from what I’m used to seeing as hackers in film. They look like my great-uncle and his group of wacky friends. Maybe Hollywood is working with the dark web overlords to paint a false picture of what real life computer hackers look like (sexy 90s cyperpunks) so we don’t think to consider middle aged sports bar crews as real hackers. Phil Robinson and friends were probably risking everything to go against “them” to show us a glimpse of what real hackers are. That’s my Sneakers conspiracy theory, anyway.
All that being said, Robert Redford knocked it out of the park as Marty. He always beams so much charisma on screen, and in Sneakers, he does so while balancing being a hacking genius and a hero to dads everywhere. I actually thought the casting all around was amazing, but I would have loved to see a nerdy middle aged woman in the same garb as Mother as a member of the crew. That would be the only suggestion I would make regarding casting, and that’s just me being selfish.
Something that really fascinated me about Sneakers was the beginning and ending wraparound about taking money from Republicans to give to liberal causes. I was surprised to see that in the movie considering it being in 1992 (post-Regan and in the midst of Bush). And it did tremendously well at the box office! Hanna, was this something that surprised you as well, considering the political climate at the time in the US?
Hanna: Actually, I think this movie was a pretty safe political bet for Hollywood at the time. Sneakers was released just two months before Clinton’s election in 1992, and Marty—played by white, charismatic, red-blooded American Redford—is, in some ways, a perfect embodiment of the Third Way, a left-center political position that Clinton championed. Marty and his adversary both agree “money’s most powerful ability is to allow bad people to continue doing bad things at the expense of those who don’t have it”; the antagonist wants (or proclaims to want) to completely destroy the binary of wealth by toppling the inherently corrupt economics systems across the globe; in his new world, billionaires will cease to exist. This is obviously an untenable solution, but at least it’s radical. Marty’s idea of economic justice, on the other hand, is moving millions of dollars from the Republican National Convention to non-profits and NGOs, which is a fun joke that doesn’t fundamentally change anything about who is able to wield power and wealth. I would love the RNC to be suddenly and inexplicably bankrupt, but I doubt that the Koch brothers would give up on their political machinations after the RNC’s funding wound up at Greenpeace in the Sneakers universe. The film seemed squarely settled in the camp of without actually challenging the circumstances fueling wealth inequality; the film’s solution isn’t to radically re-think a system that allows a few wealthy people to disproportionately control our political, social, and economic realities, but to periodically move million dollar donations from one (pretty unpopular) organization to philanthropic ones, like Robin Hood for CEOs. At the very least, I wish they had been funneling money from Unilever.
Did any of that have any impact on my opinion or enjoyment of this movie whatsoever? Absolutely not. I loved Sneakers, and crime comedies from the late 90s do not have any kind of responsibility to be politically radical. Like Boomer mentioned, Ebert was soured by Sneakers’s use of material recycled from other movies, and it does play like a movie designed identify every possible permutation of the crime comedy cliché; fortunately for Phil Alden Robinson, I was more than happy to lap it up. I love any and all heist/spy movies, but I especially appreciated the earnest absurdity of Sneakers, from the standard CSI mumbo jumbo (enhancing on the tiniest details of already blurry photos) to goofy spy nonsense involving a room fortified with temperature and motion alarms. These cliches are definitely animated by a stellar cast, and I don’t think this film would have worked quite so well for me if it weren’t for the performances, especially from Redford and Poitier. I was so tickled by Crease’s impassioned probe into the details of Janek’s secret funding at 52:42 that I had to rewind and rewatch it multiple times (“Don’t tell me you can’t do it, because I know you can! And don’t tell me you won’t do it, because I’ve got to have it! Dammit, I need to know, and I need to know now!”), and it couldn’t have worked without Poitier hamming it up. As others have mentioned, Redford perfectly captures a version of the Strong, Good-Hearted, Down-To-Earth Man with smoother edges (like Harrison Ford mixed with Alan Alda, kind of), a character that is equally irresistible to Dads and Moms alike. This is the kind of movie that should have been on annual rotation in my household, and I can’t wait to make up for lost time.
Boomer: I’ve been singing this film’s praises ever since it was first brought to my attention some 5-6 years after release, when it turned up at a sleepover. It’s the rare (perhaps the only) film with expressly leftist views that my father tolerated watching more than once, and that should tell you something about its quality, if nothing else.
Hanna: This movie made me remember how much I enjoy anagrams. I know it’s not a practical encoding technique, but those anagrams in the opening credits really roped me in, and I was on the edge of my seat when Robert Redford started shuffling those Scrabble tiles around. Spy films need more anagrams!
Brandon: As much as I enjoyed this movie as a time capsule of mainstream 90s filmmaking, I’m convinced I would’ve fully loved it as a post-“retirement” Soderbergh heist flick. Pairing this caliber of movie star casting with the more playful, eccentric visual style of an Ocean’s 12, Logan Lucky, or No Sudden Move would’ve pushed it much closer to the style-over-substance ethos that usually wins my heart. As is, it’s handsomely staged, but maybe a little too well behaved. Maybe what I’m saying is that I should finally check out Michael Mann’s Blackhat.
Britnee: In 2016, NBC planned on making a TV series reboot of Sneakers, but to my knowledge, it looks like nothing came of it. I actually think a Sneakers TV series would be pretty great, so I hope something is still brewing.
Upcoming Movies of the Month
September: Britnee presents Hello Again (1987)
October: Hanna presents Lisa and the Devil (1973)
November: Brandon presents Planet of the Vampires (1965)
-The Swampflix Crew